The Neocons Ride Again

by , August 26, 2006

Laura Rozen, guest-blogging for the Washington Monthly, wonders if “the marketing campaign” for war with Iran has begun, noting what the deputy director of operations for the joint chief of staffs said over at the Pentagon the other day:

“The Iranian government is training and equipping much of the Shiite insurgency in Iraq, a senior U.S. general said Wednesday, drawing one of the most direct links by the Pentagon. …

“Brig. Gen. Michael Barbero …said it is a ‘policy of the central government in Iran’ to destabilize Iraq and increase the violence there. ‘I think it’s irrefutable that Iran is responsible for training, funding and equipping some of these (Shiite) extremist groups and also providing advanced IED technology to them,’ Barbero said.”

This “intelligence” is about twenty years out of date. That’s how long the Iranian government has provided funding, training, and sanctuary to the Shi’ite anti-Saddam guerrilla groups which have ascended to power in post-war Iraq. The biggest party in the Shi’ite coalition, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), had its headquarters in Tehran up until the U.S invasion, as did the second biggest, the Da’wa party: both groups sponsor paramilitary outfits that have become Iraq’s de factopolice,” and control the Interior Ministry.

The well-known sympathies and foreign sponsorship of these groups did not stop the U.S. government from inviting them into the anti-Saddam “coalition,” and from invoking the plight of the Shia under the Ba’athist boot as a reason for regime-change. (We wrote about the probable consequences of this policy here, here, and here, for starters.) Now, suddenly, Gen. Barbero is shocked – shocked! – that there’s gambling in this casino.

The Iranians have had their hand in this pie from the word go. Our friend Ahmed Chalabi, touted by the neocons as the George Washington of “democratic” Iraq, was and is no doubt still quite friendly with the mullahs: such a good friend that he purportedly passed off to them vital U.S. secrets which seriously compromised our intelligence-gathering efforts in Iran. The U.S. had apparently broken the Iranian internal government code, and was eavesdropping on their internecine deliberations. Senor Chalabi is said to have tipped them off – effectively blinding us to what is really going on in the country. Another blow to our intelligence-gathering capabilities was the “outing” of Valerie Plame, who headed up a CIA unit specializing in Iran’s nuclear and other WMD programs. Bosom buddies Scooter Libby and Chalabi effectively delivered a one-two knockout punch to our intelligence-gathering capabilities inside Iran – leaving the field wide open for these guys:

“The Bush administration continues to bypass standard intelligence channels and use what some believe to be propaganda tactics to create a compelling case for war with Iran, US foreign experts and former US intelligence officials have said. One former senior intelligence official is particularly concerned by private briefings that Vice President Dick Cheney is getting from former Office of Special Plans (OSP) Director, Abram Shulsky. ‘Vice President Cheney is relying on personal briefings from Shulsky for current intelligence on Iran,’ said this intelligence official.”

They called themselves, “self-mockingly,” as Seymour Hersh reported, “the Cabal.” You remember them – they’re the folks who lied us into war. The ones who cherry-picked their way through mountains of raw data, kept Chalabi on the U.S. payroll, and fed the White House, the Congress, and the American people a constant stream of guff about “weapons of mass destruction” and al Qaeda’s alleged “bases” in Iraq. Only now they’re calling themselves the “Iranian Directorate,” or some such bureaucratic appellation: different name, different target, same lying neocons with a not-so-hidden agenda.

Senor Shulsky is quite an interesting character. He served on the staff of the Senate Intelligence Com-mittee in the early nineteen-eighties and under Richard Perle in the Pentagon during the Reagan years, then on to the Rand Corporation. A scholar who specializes in the works and thought of philosopher Leo Strauss, Shulsky’s “Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence” is a fascinating read, arguing against the “empiricism” of the realists in predicting the actions of states, and averring that all depends on the nature of “the regime.” Forget the facts, says Shulsky: we can derive something “close to” the truth a priori, simply by determining the nature of “the regime.” This certainly leaves the field wide open for the sort of fantasizing that the OSP engaged in.

Another interesting angle on Shulsky’s academic hobbyhorse is the Staussian belief that the ignorant masses cannot be trusted with the truth, while the elite philosopher-kings fulfill the vital function of constructing and upholding “myths” necessary for social and political cohesion. Strauss, in short, is the philosopher of the “noble lie,” and surely no thinker is more suited to providing a theoretical framework for the work carried out by Shulsky and his neocon confreres.

The OSP was a transmission belt for Chalabi’s fabrications, the notorious Niger uranium forgeries, and all manner of tall tales cooked up in the perfervid imaginations resident in the Pentagon’s policy shop – and its successor is already busy surpassing this record. But first they have to discredit the “mainstream” intelligence-gathering institutions, namely the CIA, the DIA, and the State Department’s own Bureau of Intelligence and Research. They did this in the run-up to war with Iraq by setting up parallel intelligence-gathering operations, like the OSP, and simply out-flanking their enemies by “stove-piping” their own “alternative” intelligence product directly to Dick Cheney, who relayed it straight to the White House. But that was just a dress-rehearsal for the main event: the looming confrontation with Iran.

Already, the neocons have launched a trial balloon in the form of a congressional report [.pdf] taking the intelligence community to task for supposedly underestimating the Iranian nuclear capability and Tehran’s hostile intentions. First Libby and Chalabi take out our eyes and ears in Tehran, and then their cohorts denounce the CIA for its “blindness” to the “threat”: very convenient. The CIA is berated not only for failing to issue “more ominous warnings about the threats [the neocons] say Iran presents to the United States,” reports the New York Times, but also for

“Playing down intelligence reports – including some from the Israeli government – of extensive contacts recently between Hezbollah and members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. ‘The people in the community are unwilling to make judgment calls and don’t know how to link anything together,’ one senior United States official said. ‘We’re not in a court of law,’ he said. ‘When they say there is ‘no evidence,’ you have to ask them what they mean, what is the meaning of the term ‘evidence’?”

Forget “empiricism,” say the neocons – let’s go with what we “know” about the Iranian “regime.” They’re the Bad Guys, part of the Axis of Evil, and therefore we don’t have to stick too closely to the facts to justify bringing about regime change. We don’t need “evidence” – what the heck is that, anyway? – all we need to do is cherry-pick “raw” intelligence and cook it up into a kind of polemical goulash, which we can then sell to the politicians and the American public.

These people, who should be in jail for lying us into invading Iraq, are instead being empowered to repeat their crime. Will they get away with it, again? Go read William M. Arkin in the Washington Post, and weep. A snippet:

“Devilish, diabolical Iran has become the new bipartisan whipping boy. Take the ‘debate’ between Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and challenger Ned Lamont in the New York Times yesterday. Lieberman says that he sees Iranian danger in U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, with Iran moving in. ‘We’ve got to wake up to this. It is the test, unfortunately, of not just this generation of American leaders, but of the next generation as well, because this enemy ain’t going away.’

“Lamont’s response? ‘The invasion of Iraq has had one big winner and that’s Iran,’ he argues. Iran is the real threat, Lamont says, and the war in Iraq has made the United States weaker in dealing with the new devil.

“…Hey, Bush and Lamont agree. I don’t know about you, but that make me very nervous.”

As I have said before in this space, the Democrats are not above out-warmongering the GOP on the question of Iran, and that means there is no natural brake on the sociopathic militarism inherent in this administration. After their failure in Iraq, and a brief exile in the wilderness, the neocons are riding high again – and that means endless troubles for us all ….

Read more by Justin Raimondo